Don Bradman made his test match bow in the 1928/29 Ashes series, when an Australian team in transition was humbled 4-1 by an MCC side led by Percy Chapman, which was arguably the strongest that ever left English shores.
Despite the favourable impression Bradman made in that series with 468 runs at 66.85 plus the fact that he had scored the then highest first-class core of 452* for New South Wales in the 1930 season, many seasoned observers like Fender and Cardus expected the 21 year old to struggle on English pitches due to his unorthodox cross-bat style. Indeed, most pundits expected Bradman's NSW team-mate Archie Jackson to be the pick of the young Australian tyros selected for the tour.
We are currently reading 'Bradman and the Summer that changed Cricket' by Christopher Hilton. It provides a detailed and fascinating account of that 1930 tour and how Bradman transformedfrom a callow boy into a man and took the cricket world by storm. We knew the story of course, but the fact that Hilton takes you back to the time makes Bradman's feats all the more impressive. Here is how the story unfurled.
Bradman started as he meant to go on with 236 in the tour opener at Worcestershire. Hethen followed this up with centuries against Leicestershire (185*), Surrey (252*) and Hampshire (191) to become the youngest and only the fifth batsman at that time to have scored 1,000 runs by the end of May.
Amazingly many commentators at the time including Surrey captain Fender still felt that Bradman would struggle once it came to the test matches when he would face a full-strength England attack. At first it looked like Fender and the other doubters could be proved correct when Bradman played on to a low one from Maurice Tate to be dismissed for only 8 in the first innings of the first Test at Trent Bridge.
But the first slice of the biggest humble pie in cricket history was served in the second innings when The Don hit a patient 131, which whilst he was at the crease looked like it would steer Australia to their daunting 429 target. However once Bradman had gone, a relieved Chapman saw his side ease to a 93 run victory. 1-0 to England.
The 2nd Test at Lord's saw a very different story when Bradman played what he adjudged to be his finest test innings. Responding to England's 425, Bradman walloped 254 as Australia totalled 729 for six declared to continue their good run at Lord's to win by seven wickets - even then England couldn't beat Australia at HQ. 1-1.
The country boy from Bowral had well and truly arrived at the centre of the Empire, but this proved to be the mere hors d'oeuvre to what happened in the next test at Headingley. Coming in on the first morning after the early departure of Jackson, Bradman tore into the England attack to become only the third man to hit a test hundred before lunch. Given that the previous two were his great Australian predecessors Victor Trumper and Charlie Macartney, Bradman was in the finest of company. He didn't stop there either as he hit another hundred between lunch and tea and then reached his triple century before the close. At the end of the first day, Australia were 458 for three and Bradman was unbeaten on 309*. Incredible. He went on to 334 the next day but rain ensured England escaped with the draw.
In the next test at Old Trafford, Bradman showed he was at least part mortal as after struggling against leg spinner Ian Peebles and failing to pick his googly, Bradman was dismissed for only 14 in his only innings. Again rain ruined the game and it was 1-1 going into the decider at The Oval, which as it would be a timeless test meantthere had to be a victor. How many runs could Bradman score in a timeless test? 500? 1000?
So spooked were the England selectors by Bradman that they panicked and replaced the adventurous Chapman as captain with the more conservative Bob Wyatt. Wyatt did the first thing right, which was winning the toss and thanks to a big hundred from Herbert Sutcliffe, England totalled 405. Unfortunately for England, Bradman chose to unveil another masterpiece to hit a magnificent series-clinching 232 and with Jackson added 243 for the fifth wicket in the decisive partnership of the game.
Australia had regained the Ashes and Bradman had scored an incredible 974 runs at 139.14 in the series. Three of his four hundreds had been doubles and one of those a triple. This was run-scoring that had never been seen before and has never been seen since. Even Bradman, although he came close, was not able to top this in the remainder of his glittering career.
Cricket had changed for ever and a watching Douglas Jardine who witnessed a passage of play where Larwood and Hammond had Bradman and Jackson hopping around arrived at a cunning and controversial strategy aimed at wresting the Ashes back two years later.